NEWARK, N.J. — Penguins players say they really can’t explain it. Same with their New Jersey counterparts.
But no one disputes that the Penguins tend to struggle when they face the Devils at the Prudential Center, which they will do at 1:08 p.m. today.
“We’ve had some tough games here,” Penguins center Sidney Crosby said Monday.
Almost no other kind, really, at least in recent seasons.
The Penguins are 2-9-2 in their past 13 visits to Newark, including losses in seven of the past eight trips.
New Jersey plays a defensive style that, coupled with generally strong work from goalie Martin Brodeur, tends to frustrate the Penguins, especially when they’re forced to play from behind.
“We take pride in trying to shut their big guys down,” New Jersey center Adam Henrique said.
“They have a lot of offensive power, so we try to shut them down or limit their chances as much as possible.”
The Devils have done that well enough to take two points out of all but three of the teams’ past 15 games at the Prudential Center.
“We haven’t had much success here,” Penguins right winger Craig Adams said.
“Hopefully, we’ll figure it out.”
Malkin shows improvement
Evgeni Malkin went through a full practice Monday at the Prudential Center — even stayed on the ice for some extra work — but coach Dan Bylsma said there still is no target date for Malkin’s return to the lineup.
“He’s progressing,” Bylsma said. “Today, he had some one-on-ones and some battle drills and had the five-on-four power play full speed. It’s another step for him, but no target yet.”
Jussi Jokinen continued to fill Malkin’s usual spot in the middle of the second line, with James Neal and Chris Conner on the wings.
Malkin has been out since Dec. 14, when he went skates-first into the boards in a game in Detroit that resulted in an apparent leg injury.
Bylsma said that injured defenseman Kris Letang “skated at length in Pittsburgh and is progressing,” and that “hopefully, we’ll see him rejoin the team for practice after the game [today].”
Maatta hits a bump
Rookie defenseman Olli Maatta, so solid and reliable most of the season, has sputtered a bit of late and appears to be at least a possibility to be a healthy scratch today.
Maatta had a run of three consecutive games with a negative plus-minus rating before being even in the 5-3 victory Sunday in Columbus.
With Simon Despres available to step in, Bylsma can put Maatta in the press box for a game if he concludes it would be beneficial.
“His play maybe hasn’t been a strong in the last couple [of games],” Bylsma said. “When his play is good, he’s been worked with and coached and looked at video. And that’s certainly going to happen through this stretch, as well.”
Maatta is one of seven Penguins to appear in all 41 games this season.
Neal is honored
Neal was named the NHL’s No. 3 star for the week that ended Sunday.
Chicago winger Patrick Sharp was the No. 1 star and Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller was No. 2.
Neal had a league high eight points, with four goals and four assists, all in the past two games.
That includes his fourth career hat trick and first five-point game in the victory at Columbus.
The Penguins assigned winger Harry Zolnierczyk and defenseman Brian Dumoulin to their American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre. … Devils right winger Steve Bernier went hard into the boards in a practice drill Monday and had to be helped off the ice. He did not speak with reporters, and his status for the game today is not known.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.